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Monday, August 21st, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry muffins

I’m a day late posting because there was that solar eclipse event today. Jeremy and I had too much going on to afford more than a day trip, and as it turns out, making a day trip to Wyoming was going to take more than a day. So we stuck it out at home, which worked rather well for us. We got some heavy cloud build up about 30 minutes in and then it dissipated as we neared the maximum (probably because the reduced energy from the sun was no longer fueling cloud formation) and enjoyed mostly clear views of the eclipse through the end when the clouds reappeared. You can see where I had to shoot through a veil of thin clouds to get some of the earlier phases. I hope many of you were able to view the eclipse in one form or another! I had a much simpler setup than the last solar eclipse I photographed and it was super nice not to have to drive, worry about parking, or worry about the dog.


composite of the eclipse (maximum was 93% here)

jeremy adjusts the binocular projection

using the colander to project dozens of crescents



My parents returned to Virginia last week, but not before we celebrated my mom’s birthday at Flagstaff House in Boulder! I normally like to cook Mom a nice meal for her birthday, but after dining out, my parents requested a “simple” meal the next evening. Simple doesn’t mean it can’t be special. Since mushroom season has been booming and my mom LOVES mushrooms, I served cream of chanterelle soup, porcini and elk sausage tortellini in a beef and porcini brodo (recipe coming soon), and porcini pizza – all with fresh mushrooms I had foraged. I love that I can do that for her.

happy birthday, mom!

the stoke is high because dad has a 3-olive gin martini



The past week has been a blur of activity: mushrooms, bonding with my favorite people in the high country, visits from friends, learning new mountain biking skills, and that eclipse. Fall is merely a suggestion right now, but it’s getting louder each day. I hear children at recess now when the neighborhood used to be silent just last week. There’s a lot more traffic in Boulder as parents bring their freshman offspring to campus. Spots of red color occasionally dot the high meadows – leaves that are preparing for the end of the season. I know what’s coming and I’m giddy thinking about it: chanterelles, huckleberries, fall colors, crisp and cool evenings, and SKI SEASON. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here…

a half dozen moose lounging in the meadow, as they do

still finding elephant heads up in the high country

banjo and erin and a porcini – the start of a VERY good day

sometimes that splash of red in the huckleberry plants is a porcini

the dog days of summer



I’m trying to be optimistic over here. Twila told me that the huckleberries are going in Montana. My patches are running a little late, which can be good if the sun and rains continue to nurture them, or it can be very very very bad if an early winter cuts them off before they can ripen. You never know when you will have a good year or a bad year or a few bad years, which is why I don’t like to use up the previous year’s harvest until I know I have this year’s harvest in the freezer. The same applies to the mushrooms. While my fingers and toeses and noses are all crossed for a good huckleberry season, I’ve got a good recipe to use with fresh or frozen huckleberries. I actually tested two huckleberry muffin recipes four times and finally settled on this adaptation of Deb’s Perfect Blueberry Muffins. The biggest problem is getting muffins to dome nicely at my elevation, but otherwise, I quite love these muffins.

butter, huckleberries, flour, turbinado sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sour cream, lemon zest, sugar, egg

whisk the sugar into the melted butter

stir in the egg, lemon zest, and sour cream



**Jump for more butter**

what’s hot

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Recipe: morel prosciutto asparagus pizza

No matter how hard I try to prepare myself for the onslaught of summer temperatures, it always takes my body by surprise. Our overnight lows dip less each night and the midday sun now feels as if my face and skin are ready to burn right off. It makes me wonder how I ever survived growing up in Virginia and living in Southern California for ten years. If there is one drawback to living in the mountains, it’s that I’ve become a wimp when the mercury rises above 65°F. Give me single digits and snow ANY day, thanks! Heat aside, watching the mountains spring to life in all their glory is something magical to behold. I could spend the rest of my days marveling at these brief but productive mountain summers and never get enough.


false hellebore

phlox blossoms and lupine leaves

neva enjoying the lupine flowers

gold banner and shooting stars (pink) and a happy bumblebee



For the past couple of months, we have been following the journey of two friends who live up the road from us in Nederland. They started at the U.S. border with Mexico and hiked north on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through New Mexico, then made the first ski crossing this season of the formidable San Juan mountains in Southern Colorado and are continuing north through the state. A few days before they crossed Colorado State Highway 114, Elaine and I coordinated via very short messages to meet where the trail intersects that lonely stretch of road. It was an 80 minute drive from Crested Butte, but it was the easiest way to meet up logistically. Jeremy and I brought food and water, and we took their skis, boots, and skins because the snow pack has been withering under the warm and intensely sunny days. What’s cool is that they will be hiking the CDT into our local mountains on the Front Range and they will hike home for a few days before resuming their trek northward into Canada. Dan and Elaine are not only amazing endurance athletes, they are two genuinely thoughtful and wonderful individuals. If you’d like to follow their progress and cheer them on, they post when they can on Instagram as @elainevardamis and @nomadwolf360.

elaine and dan



We returned to the Front Range at the end of last week right about when Nature decided to turn the dial up to BROIL. En route from Crested Butte to Nederland, we made a pit stop at Copper Mountain. All of the mountain streams are flowing fast and high due to the runoff from the melting snow pack. Because it was so warm, we walked Neva down a little path to a small protected eddy on the edge of the nearby creek. She walked in and seemed to enjoy cooling her paws when she took one step out of the eddy into the heavy flow and got swept downstream in a split second. Luckily, Neva was on her halti (gentle leader) and leash and I was holding the other end, but the current was so strong that I worried the halti would slip off or break or that she would drown. I waded in and tried to carefully reel her back to me, calling her to swim to me. She tried, but the stream was clearly so much stronger than her legs could paddle. In less than a minute, I grabbed her and had her back on the bank – Jeremy was already slightly downstream in anticipation of having to catch Neva if the leash or leader broke. We toweled her off and kissed her wet head. She was back to her usual self after showing a little affection by rubbing herself against our legs. She’s used to her alpine lakes that are safe and calm, but we’ll see to it that she sticks to low-flow streams from here on out.

This past weekend was apparently our farewell to spring. Jeremy and I went for a quick backcountry ski to escape the heat, only to discover the heat had been hanging out in the high country for a while. Winter and spring ski travel through the trees is easier in part because you are navigating some twenty feet above ground where the conifer branches are smaller and there is more space between trees. A week before summer and you find yourself clambering over deadfall (fallen trees), bare muddy patches, rocks, and bushwhacking through dense branches that you had gleefully skied a month earlier and twelve feet higher before the snow began to melt. Then Erin and I made one more foraging trip and found a good number of morels considering we were expecting to go home empty-handed. To be honest, I am a little relieved to stop thinking, dreaming, researching, obsessing, and hunting morels. It will be nice to have a break before the other mushroom seasons kick into high gear. This year I come away with a jar of dried morels thanks to my friend, Jay (Erin’s husband), and a happy stash of butter-sautéed morels in my freezer. It was a great season.


one last backcountry ski for the season

wave cloud over the reservoir

erin still finding morels

such a beautiful and weird mushroom



It seems fitting to post one more morel recipe for those still finding them to our north and west, or buying them in markets, or those who have their own stash to draw upon. We love our pizza year round, but it is especially lovely come summertime because we grill them on a pizza stone on the deck while the house remains cool. For mushroom foragers, there are some standard recipes you can always count on for enjoying mushrooms: pasta, steak, sautéed in butter, quiche, pot pies or pastries, toast, batter-fried, and pizza.

morels, mozzarella, salt, butter, prosciutto, garlic, asparagus, more butter, eggs, black pepper, pizza dough



Though official summer is a few days away, morels are very much a spring mushroom. That’s why I really enjoy serving them with a spring vegetable like asparagus and creamy, mild flavors like eggs and mozzarella. I’m sure a red sauce would be great with any mushroom, but garlic butter complements morels without masking their deliciousness.

mash the garlic and salt into a paste

stir the garlic paste into softened butter

dry fry the morels in a hot pan

add a pat of butter and sauté

you can chop or slice the asparagus (i like ribbons here)



**Jump for more butter**

gifts and giving

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Recipe: pheasant and morel vol au vent

It seems that everyone is checking out for the summer. People are on vacation and no one is reading blog posts. I get it. I get that. If I didn’t feel the compulsion to document my summer activities and my summer recipes (because OCD), I’d go dark over here until Octoberish. I’ll admit I often wonder if I stopped blogging throughout the summer, would I ever pick it up again in the fall? But hey, I probably use my recipe archives more than anyone, so I keep growing it for me and hence, for you. Besides, how else could you experience Neva’s progression from a crazy bad dog to a crazy good dog?


neva enjoying her first paddle of the season (and staying on the board)

a storm cell lets loose over fourteeners in the distance



After spending the past several weeks witnessing reports of spring morel flushes starting in the southern US and spreading north along the East Coast and into the Midwest, and the West Coast reports chiming in throughout, we in the Rocky Mountains have begun to see our flushes. Of course, our morels are going gangbusters after the harvest is nothing more than a memory for the rest of the country, but our time is NOW. I only started foraging black morels (the kind that grow in the Colorado high country) last spring when I found them near Crested Butte by accident. Searching similar environments back home on the Colorado Front Range yielded two very separate and very lonely specimens in 2016.

When you are just starting out on your own, it’s hard to know if you aren’t finding mushrooms because it’s a bad year or they don’t grow there or you’re looking in the wrong environment or because you suck at foraging that kind of mushroom. But now I am into my second season, so I can add the dimension of time to my morel data. Yes, they came up again in Crested Butte, but better than that – Jeremy and I found a motherlode on the Front Range based on what we know about morel environments and what we scoped out last fall. Countless hours and miles of reconnaissance, tracking snowpack and precipitation history, studying satellite imagery and topographic maps have paid off because SCIENCE WORKS!


a little party of morels (4 in the picture, but 12 total)

a pretty nice haul



My foraging buddy, Erin, has also been on the prowl for black morels on the Front Range since last spring with an even worse record than my two mushrooms. She found one. We email one another about mushroom hunting in the dead of winter, contemplating places to check when the snows finally recede. We research, document, study, archive, search for, and have lengthy discussions about mushrooms. Erin and I had a foraging date set for the morning after Jeremy and I found the motherlode, but we hadn’t decided on where to go because we didn’t know where the morels were at the time. I don’t give away my mushroom spots to anyone except for Jeremy (natch) and Erin. Erin is my partner in foraging crime. We are both afflicted with this extremely nerdy obsession/sickness and we happen to be damn good hawkeye foragers. It was time for a Righteous and Proper Mountain Girls’ Foray, so I took her to the magical kingdom of morels. Biggest haul ever! [We left our pups at home because the environment would have made Banjo unhappy and I’m pretty sure high-energy Neva would have crushed every single morel underfoot, twice over, before we could even get eyes on them.]

erin harvests a morel

twofer!

and that’s just her share – what a happy girl



When you spend seven hours crawling through the woods giving yourselves eyestrain headaches and experiencing highs and lows (finding and not finding morels) like a drug addict, it’s inevitable to talk about a whole host of topics, including your plans for the morels. My early haul morels are almost always slated for recipes that I want to test and shoot for the blog. Once I meet that quota, the rest will be sautéed in butter and stored in the freezer for winter or dried for various projects. Today’s recipe came about because my neighbors’ teenage son gave me two whole pheasant breasts from a hunting trip last fall as a thank you for a career brainstorming session with me and Jeremy. Game birds pair nicely with wild mushrooms, and now I had both!

morels, bacon, salt, pepper, brandy, egg, puff pastry, shallots, water, cream, butter, pheasant breasts



I decided the recipe would have to involve diced pheasant meat because all but one of the breasts had been torn through with pellets. Pheasant and morels served in puff pastry? Yes! How about some bacon? Yes! And some cream and a splash of brandy? Aw, hell yes! After several hours of walking cross country through the mountains in a Tai Chi-esque semi-lunge looking for morels, I don’t feel like making puff pastry from scratch when I get home. These morels don’t clean themselves and these recipes most certainly don’t make and photograph themselves. It’s okay to use store-bought puff pastry, as long as it is good puff pastry. Vols au vent are basically little baskets of buttery, flaky puff pastry deliciousness with space to hold even more deliciousness of your choice. It’s like an edible cup with all the calories you’ll need for the week.

cut out the bases and rings of the vols au vent

dock the bases

brush with egg wash

layer the rings and brush the tops with egg wash



**Jump for more butter**